'...has the rare quality of knowing how to present the pictures within their own context.'UNESCO
AwardsSilver Lion, Venice Bronze Medal, Brussels Outstanding Merit, Berlin First Prize, Cultural Film, Mannheim International Recognition, Mannheim Diplome d'Honneur, Cannes Highly Commended, German Center for Film Classification
CreditsDirector: HG Zeiss Narration: Susanne Carwin Original music: Winfried Zillig: :
Catalog number # 500
15 minutes Color
Age Range: 12 to Adult
Closed Captions and Interactive Transcript
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Such 'improvisations', painted before the First World War, mark the end of Kandinsky's early period. He has opened his way into the domain of colored form, has freed himself from the object world that provided his early themes. He is the first to create works of non-objective art, the art of the twentieth century.
Wassily Kandinsky was born in Russia in 1866. He studied law. At the age of thirty he was offered a chair at the University of Dorpat which he declined. He moved to Bavaria in order to become a painter. His eyes took in the new impressions and linked them with things familiar or dreamt of. The corner with the crucifix in a peasant's room in Upper Bavaria would remind him of the corner with icons in the homes of Russian peasants. Even the rooms as a whole evoked the memory of Russian villages. People were 'living inside the picture' as he used to call it. The Bavarian plains and moors would recall to him the spaciousness of the Russian landscape. His romantic mind was immensely impressed by medieval Rothenburg ob der Tauber, with its compact outline, with its gates, its narrow lanes, and the sign-boards of its inns. Kandinsky clad this impression in medieval fairy-tale attire.
Munich is the artistic centre of Bavaria. In Munich he is going to learn the craft that will enable him to lend visual form to the imagery of his soul. Kandinsky writes about this period! 'The German fairy-tales that I had often heard as a child, became alive. Old Schwabing and especially the 'Au', a region I once happened to discover changed these fairy-tales into reality. The yellow letterboxes sang their canary-yellow songs from the corners.' Munich with its English Garden, he captures the silent magic of the park, and the elegance of the ladies during their promenade.
Kandinsky becomes a pupil of Franz v. Stuck. He obviously prefers the famous master's art of design to his grandiose romantic inventions that are commonly admired by his other contemporaries. But when Kandinsky himself tries to paint a big picture on a romantic subject he breaks off half way, apparently he is not satisfied with the result. However in colored woodcuts of that period, the artist shows a delicate poetic mind that does not need the ballast of anecdote, and, in his studies from nature, he achieves unity and clarity of form mainly by the use of color.
By now the pupil has himself become a teacher. Kandinsky is in his mid-thirties. Munich does not seem the right place for him at this stage. A period of restless wandering sets in. From 1903 to 1908 he finds himself travelling through half Europe and North Africa. His style in painting is vivid, it is still quite romantic, there has been no fundamental change.
Kandinsky returns to Bavaria. He starts painting at Murnau. By the intensity and the glowing power of his colors, he endows the natural object with life, clarity and form. Color overpowers all single forms, suppresses them, compels them into a single plane. Color overwhelms tree, house, tower, cloud, robs them of their material weight.
Kandinsky is nearing a frontier that has never been crossed. But even now he does not yet dare to take the decisive step. He has to be impelled to take it.
The impulsion comes from a direction from which it would scarcely be expected, from folk art, mainly from Bavarian 'Hinterglas' pictures, that is, pictures painted on the reverse side of a sheet of glass. There the Saints and their stories are represented in a naive manner, unaffected by theories of Art, and by all realism or naturalism. Kandinsky senses a kinship with the Russian traditions of icon-painting. He adapts the Bavarian technique, but he chooses a Russian Saint, Vladimir, the apostle of the Russians: the style, however is that of Bavarian folk art. The subject matter of this sort of painting seems, at times, to reflect his own psychological problems. The battle between St George and the Dragon is a dramatic event, but, reduced to its concisest forms, and with all literary associations eliminated, it may obviously symbolize the inner conflicts of the artist. Thus it became an act of liberation capable of far-reaching consequences.
For now artists of similar mind gather round Kandinsky; Paul Klee, August Macke, Franz Marc admire him for his mastery. The 'Blaue Reiter' group is born. Kandinsky makes several sketches for the title-page of the Almanac. In the end he abandons the elegant version of the picture and reverts to the St George of his 'Hinterglas' painting. It seems as if the 'Hinterglas' picture, thanks to its peasant origin, serves as a bridge to his homeland and to Moscow's thousand cupolas. The sun melts the whole of Moscow into one single spot which, like a raving tuba sets your whole soul, all your being into an intense vibration". Kandinsky looks forward to even greater freedom.
'It was the hour when dusk sets in. I came home, still dreamy, when, quite of a sudden, I saw an indescribably beautiful picture that seemed immersed in an inner glow. I hesitated, then I hurried to look at this enigmatic picture that did not show anything but forms and colors and that could not be interpreted as to its contents. It was a picture I myself had painted, it was leaning sideways against the easel. Next day, by sunlight, I tried to obtain the same impression but I did not succeed fully. I could not but recognize the objects represented. Now I knew for certain that the object spoiled my pictures.'
Kandinsky searches for new ways. The iridescent colors he attained in his 'Hinterglas' pictures seem to lose their brilliance as soon as he paints on canvas. But as far as perspective is concerned, he frees himself of naturalism; the landscape, with mountains, churches, and figures, seems to be spread out before our eyes like a fan, no longer subject to the laws of gravitation; heaven and earth seem to be revolving.
The old, romantic, fairy-tale ideas lose their narrative element. Kandinsky does not ban the object world from his pictures, not yet, he hides it. He tried to reduce it to its concisest 'form'.
He creates the hieroglyph and often enough it is intelligible only to the initiated. In one case Kandinsky has lifted the veil himself: from the representation of the ascension of Elijah in Russian icons and from pictures of his own, he developed the troika hieroglyph, a formula that consists of three lines in a slightly irregular course, more or less parallel to each other and bent at the top. This is a motive to be found now and again in sketches, water-colors, and 'improvisations'. The line takes the place of the object and seems to become a living creature itself.
Is this just a symphony of forceful, shining color' It is that too. But at the same time it is the remembrance of a visit to the Partnachgorge. By the waterfall, stand a peasant and his wife. From here it is only one step, one step to cut out even the faintest recollection of things and events once experienced. It is, however, the step of a genius.
'To paint, that means different worlds clashing like thunder; out of these worlds, by way of this combat, a new world shall be created, whose name will be the 'work'. Technically, every 'work' comes into being just as the cosmos came into being, by catastrophes that at long last form a symphony out of the chaotic roaring of the instruments. Its name is 'music of the spheres'. To create a work of art is to create the world'
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